Trust government? Why?

In God we trust, not in government. Theocracy, but not hierarchy.
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Most people in America don’t trust their government. And most people haven’t trusted their government since shortly after the Manhattan Incident (September 11, 2001). The Democratic Party might have thought Barack Obama could restore that trust. He has not, and has only made it worse.

Today Barack Obama almost pleads with people to trust government again. The only just answer to him is: You’ve got to be kidding!

Decline in public trust in government

In God we trust, not in government

Plaque on the U.S. Capitol. Note the motto: “In God We Trust.” Photo: Office of the U.S. Capitol Architect

The Pew Research Center for People and the Press has the best graph showing the degree of public trust in government. President Lyndon Baines Johnson earned the highest level of trust since 1958. The sight of him holding up his right hand and intoning the Presidential Oath of Office, with Jackie Kennedy sitting next to him in her blood-stained dress, no doubt impressed a lot of people.

Johnson had it all then. And he blew it. His Great Society proved not so great for everybody. And his micro-management of Vietnam only made it worse. (To be fair to Johnson, Walter Cronkite might have had a hand in this. He totally mischaracterized and misconstrued the outcome of the Tet Offensive of 1968. But Johnson could and should have corrected the record. He made no effort.)

Richard M. Nixon truly broke the public trust by sending men to burglarize his opponents’ campaign headquarters (and the office of a private psychiatrist), then lying about it. But James Earl Carter, Jr. further broke that trust. He gave us gasoline rationing and couldn’t get fifty-odd Embassy employees out of Iran.

Ronald Reagan rebuilt that trust, at least to a degree. George H. W. Bush kept it up. But Bill Clinton took it down again, as low as 17 percent in 1994. That’s why he lost the Congress that year.

George W. Bush gained the highest trust level since Johnson and Nixon after the Manhattan Incident. Then the Truther narrative took hold, first among leftists, then among libertarians. Then U.S. soldiers could not find, or at least did not show, any stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq. Bush’s opponents insisted they never existed. Again, Bush never corrected the record. Why he so failed, no one knows yet. (Note: the Gallup poll showed how Bush regained, then lost, that trust in a narrower window.)

Then came Obama. And far from rebuilding public trust in government, he lost even more of it. Last year Pew admitted: that trust stayed at an all-time low.

CNN’s Political Ticker blog commissioned a poll two months ago. It showed even fewer people trust the government today. And on the Fox News Channel, their announcers have said for the past three days that people don’t trust what the government says, whether about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa or about anything else. (See here for the seven-page detailed report from the CNN/ORC poll.)

Why should the people trust the government?

This skepticism from the public worries many politicians, and even worries some in the media. But they offer nothing but platitudes. People have heard too many of them.

The American people have known one thing for decades: almost anything the government touches, it fouls up. The post office is the prize example. Every American citizen surely has a tale of woe about mail pieces they either didn’t get, or sent but the other party didn’t get them. Who hasn’t gotten a nasty-gram threatening anything from subscription lapse to service cutoff to a lawsuit for nonpayment of a bill? The reason: you sent the check, but the vendor/landlord/whoever didn’t get the check. So they blame you. In fact you can both blame the post office. No wonder this became a proverb in the 1970s:

If you like the United States Post Office, you are gonna love nationalized oil!

Or “socialized medicine.” What favors has the “Affordable Care Act” done for anyone? That law is doing people out of the insurance they already have. The carriers either may not – may not – offer the same plan, or else people can’t afford the premiums or must accept astronomical deductibles. A week or so ago, Ezekiel Emmanuel openly recommended planning to die at age 75. Now you know Sarah Palin was right. Meet the Death Panel.

Leftists billed themselves as the party of personal civil liberty. Why, then, did the Obama administration keep the National Security Agency’s program of watching everybody everywhere, and double down on it? Despite that, two bombs blew up in Boston on Marathon Day.

Last weekend, a scene played out at Newark’s Liberty International Airport. Richard Dean Anderson, call your agent – or maybe your lawyers. (Reference: Pandora’s Clock, dir. Eric Laneuville; written by David Israel based on a novel by John J. Nance; with Richard Dean Anderson, Daphne Zuniga, Jane Leeves, and Richard Lawson; NBC Television, 1996). An airliner landed. A team from the CDC surrounded it. They would not let any passengers off until they had taken charge of a sick passenger. They were looking for someone carrying Ebola. But Barack Obama won’t restrict travel from West Africa, site of the current outbreak.

On this last issue, George Will said openly: Americans do not trust the government to keep them from catching Ebola. He might as well ask why Americans should trust the government to do anything.

The government has three core functions: the police, the military, and the judiciary. Beyond these, government needs no other functions. Today people finally realize: they can’t trust the government. They should now ask whether it’s time for them to trust one another, and themselves, instead.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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